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Education Reporter

UNESCO Promotes Explicit Sex Ed Curriculum Worldwide
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At the beginning of September in Birmingham, U.K., the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) presented a draft of its official recommendations for sex education worldwide. A few weeks before the conference, some conservative critics called national attention to the online working draft of UNESCO's recommendations. UNESCO's guidelines, supposedly intended to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, betray an underlying radical agenda that would have children around the world learning far more about sex at younger ages, and far more debatable information about sex, than is necessary or helpful in order to arm them against disease.

In the guidelines, UNESCO tells teachers around the world to present abstinence until marriage as "only one of a range of choices available to young people" in order to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The guidelines have children ages five to eight learning about masturbation in school, with a more detailed discussion for children ages nine to 15. Children ages five to eight would also learn about same-sex couples and "tolerance" of different sexual orientations. New topics on the list for nine-year-olds include orgasm and abortion.

"I'm really concerned about what they want to teach five- to eight-year-olds," said Michelle Turner of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, "and I have concerns about their position on abortion and the way they want to present it to youth. Where are parents' rights? It's not up to the government to teach these things."

UNESCO does not pretend to be neutral on the subject of abortion; a 2002 report, for example, opined that "governments should make abortion legal, safe, and affordable." The new sex ed guidelines reflect UNESCO's position, asserting that teachers should discuss "advocacy to promote the right to and access to safe abortion" with students ages 12-15 and older. According to UNESCO, students need to know that "legal abortion performed under sterile conditions by medically trained personnel is safe," and need to discuss both "the use and misuse of emergency contraception" and "access to safe abortion and post-abortion care" in health or science classes. This particular recommendation seems to translate into teachers in government-funded schools informing their students about how and where they can obtain both chemical and surgical abortions.

A scathing article in Time retaliated against American conservatives for criticizing the U.N. document. "There's a chance that, in the U.S., UNESCO's recommendation will be drowned out by the knee-jerk outrage of conservative pundits," wrote journalist Bruce Crumley. "But at least the guidelines can undergo sober and thoughtful examination in more open-minded places . . . like Ethiopia." Crumley had quoted from UNESCO spokeswoman Sue Williams, who asserted that the recommendations received largely positive press everywhere except the U.S., even "conservative places like the Solomon Islands and Ethiopia, which have to balance traditional values with pressing problems created by unwanted pregnancy and disease." It is difficult to credit Williams's report of nations everywhere embracing the UNESCO guidelines wholeheartedly, especially since of the two nations she named, abortion is illegal in one and legal only under certain circumstances, such as rape or incest, in the other. (Time, 9-3-09)

Paul Mason, of the pro-life Population Research Institute, criticized the UNESCO guidelines as "culturally insensitive," among other problems. "We think it's a kind of one-size-fits-all approach that's damaging to cultures, religions and to children," Mason told the New York Times.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), one of the key participating agencies that funded work on the guidelines, asked that its name be removed from the draft soon after the story broke. Some critics pointed to an inconsistency here, however, since within a week of pulling its name from the UNESCO guidelines, UNFPA held a conference in Berlin training 400 activists to advocate for abortion around the world. The UNPFA released a statement at the end of the conference urging all nations to provide taxpayer-financed abortions, to "eliminate parental . . . and age restrictions" for youth to access "the full range of sexual and reproductive health information and services," and to increase funds for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) advocating abortion and other "reproductive health care services." UNFPA director Thoroya Obaid reminded the activists assembled for training that they could go even beyond the U.N. in abortion advocacy: "Unlike us at the U.N. who are held accountable by intergovernmental mechanisms, you as NGOs have more freedom and space to push the agenda ahead." (Report from the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, 9-4-09)

Whatever the significance of UNFPA's reaction, widespread outrage about the guidelines prompted UNESCO to make several changes before presenting its draft in Birmingham. UNESCO will continue to rework its sex ed recommendations and will finalize the guidelines by the end of the year. The agency is not exactly "repentant," however; it responded to criticisms with a press release defending its guidelines as "evidence-informed and rights-based." (New York Times, 9-3-09)

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